I’ve been diving into some homesteading details lately and sharing about what lambing really looks like, out in the field, around here. Everyone manages their livestock differently, so this is not meant to be a “how-to” series or a recommendation. It’s simply meant to be a snapshot of “real life” out in the grass around here.
Some Common Problems…PULLING A LAMB
“Pulling a lamb” (or any other livestock baby!) refers to exactly that, helping pull the little one from the momma during labor if he’s having a hard time coming on his own. The first thing to mention is that it doesn’t happen very often here! How appropriate that my pictures for this post are of a Hog Island ewe–we had the most trouble with this in our early years with our larger Hog Island flock. Now I’d say we only have this come up every other year or so–most likely with a first year momma with a big single lamb.
If you go back to the first post about what is normal, you’ll see that once the lamb is showing–once you see little hooves under the ewe’s tail–the lamb should be coming quickly! The momma should be laying down and pushing at this point and the lamb should be all out in just a few minutes. If that doesn’t happen, there’s a problem.
We’ve seen two different versions of this.
The most common with first time mommas has been that the ewe lays down for a few contractions, then gets up when she’s not making progress and starts walking around. This happen to us a few years ago. This can be a very touchy situation because she’s young and doesn’t always know what she’s supposed to do or what you’re about to do. We went out there to check on her and she started running around. She’s in pain, she’s scared, and I’d bet she can tell that something’s not right too.
Of course, the sight of a sheep running around the field with feet sticking out her back end would also be laughable if it wasn’t so serious. It’s one of those “is this really happening?!” moments in farming.
Mr. Fix-It and I had to corner her and catch her and force her to lay down so we could check out the problem. This can be caused by two main things–the lamb is in the wrong position and coming out wrong, or the lamb is big and is having troubling fitting through the birth canal.
In this case, the little feet were pointing in the right direction and he just didn’t seem to be able to fit–combined with the momma freaking out a little bit and deciding to get up and walk around instead of continuing to push. So Mr. Fix-It wrapped a clean towel around his little ankles and pulled. (Remember, on Friday I mentioned that we always have clean, dry towels around at lambing time!)
Now, this was not a yank-with-all-your-might situation! Maybe you’ve seen something like that on TV, or in a book. And this didn’t include chains, or ropes, or any other equipment. I just held her down and Mr. Fix-It pulled firmly each time she had a contraction–pulling the lamb out in a slight curve (not straight out!) almost toward her feet. The lamb slid out, we swiped his mouth and nose quickly with the towel, and backed off.
The momma lurched up to her feet, bawling, and shook herself off. When the little one started to struggle and baaaa, she turned and started licking him and did all her momma work and all was well. That ewe hasn’t had trouble since and had twins this year.
The unfortunate side of this situation is that sometimes the lamb really is too big and it just doesn’t survive the birth trauma, even with help. Occasionally you’ll even lose the momma in the struggle. We’ve never lost a ewe this way, but we have lost lambs that were too big to be born right and I’ve heard a lot of stories. The stories make for good drama, but my feeling is that it’s not as common as it might seem. It certainly hasn’t been here. You just always hear the bad news.
We’ve faced the “huge lamb” issue a couple of times, especially with the Hog Islands in our earlier years. (And the trouble since has usually been with a Hog Island cross.) We noted that our Hog Islands tended to have less uniform birth sizes (lambs would range from 5 lbs to 9 lbs!), and the ewes tended to be more slim-built in the hips. The Cluns are well-built for lambing with narrow shoulders, wider hips, and more standard birth sizes. Our twins average 5-6 lbs and a single lamb can average 6 to almost 8 lbs. Over that, especially with a first year ewe, and there’s going to be trouble. A 9-10 lb lamb is definitely going to have trouble.
I mentioned that there’s two different version to this problem. One is a lamb that is basically stuck and needs a little help–like the situation I just described. The other is a lamb that is in the wrong position and the ewe is laying down and laboring and making no progress. This is a completely different situation and I’ll cover that experience in more detail in a few days. For us, that’s a vet call.
Tomorrow I’ll share about facing weak lambs. This is probably our most common problem, and it’s the hardest part for me, as a farmer.
Be sure to come back for the rest of the Lambing Help series…
- Part 1: What Does Normal Look Like?
- Part 2: Common Problems We’ve Faced.
- Part 3: When to Call the Vet.
And if you’re looking for more specific information, here’s our very favorite sheep books–the ones we keep close by all year long!
See where I’m sharing this week…